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Cream of the Crop

PUBLISHED: 18:02 29 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:34 20 February 2013

Cream of the Crop

Cream of the Crop

The mild and creamy flavour of green garlic is sought after by the best restaurants, and Ant Pelly is growing it alongside other specialist foods at his farm in North Devon. Debbie Manners went to meet him

Cream of the Crop



The mild and creamy flavour of green garlic is sought after by the best restaurants, and Ant Pelly is growing it alongside other specialist foods at his farm in North Devon. Debbie Manners went to meet him




Green garlic is a Mediterranean crop, it likes a mild climate and plenty of sunshine. So whats it doing in North Devon with its drought-defying rainfall and unpredictable weather? Well actually, its doing very nicely, thank you. And its all down to Ant Pelly, market gardener with the greenest of green fingers, and an approach to horticulture that embraces all things sustainable. His Radley Cross green garlic, also known as wet garlic, is sought after by top chefs and gourmets delighted to find a new British supplier in a market dominated by European imports.


Like asparagus, green garlic has a very short season. Just a matter of weeks in the early summer. This specialist crop isnt available in supermarkets, and is still relatively unknown in the UK. Green garlic is basically young garlic, lifted from the ground before the bulb has divided into cloves. It has a mild, creamy flavour, with none of the pungency that develops as the bulb matures. What sets Ants green garlic apart is the fact that it is so fat, so juicy and so delicious, and grown to this exceptional quality despite the challenges of the North Devon weather.


Radley Cross Market Garden, run by Ant and his wife Penny, is based in a picturesque spot, a few miles from South Molton. It is one of those magical places where time seems to have given up marching forwards, where life progresses at its own measured pace, and where the rolling hills run to the horizon unbothered by the clutter of modern living. Ant and Penny live in an ancient rambling farmhouse, a family home and also the headquarters of Radley Cross Market Garden.


Ant greets me at the door with a relaxed handshake and wry smile. As we talk over a cup of Earl Grey tea, I soon realise that Ant is a man with a can do attitude, someone who enjoys a challenge, who has never been afraid to be a trail blazer. As the first garlic grower in the North of England, he experimented with different types of garlic, ran the wonderfully named Snods Edge Garlic Festival and, unsurprisingly, earned himself the nickname Mr Garlic. But it was only following his move from Northumberland to Devon three years ago, that the idea of growing green garlic took shape.


"We were on a visit to Covent Garden and we saw some imported green garlic from Egypt. It was small and unappetising, and that started me wondering if I could do better. I knew it was really a Mediterranean crop, but I liked the idea of growing it here. I do have a tendency to think, what can I do that looks reasonably impossible? Then Ill do it! Its a crazy idea, but great fun."


As well as the challenge of succeeding with his crazy idea, Ant is clearly driven by his passion for sustainability and an approach to land management that allows the creation of a biodiverse environment. He avoids pesticides, fungicides and artificial fertilisers, preferring instead to maximise fertility by incorporating green manure crops and organic matter. "Our slopes are south facing, clay loam on top of shillet, a type of crushed shale, and this means the drainage is good. It is wet here though, so we try to improve the drainage further by growing the garlic on ridges. If you look around here its all sheep certainly not natural garlic growing country!"


When it comes to horticulture in general, and garlic in particular, Ant certainly knows his onions, so to speak. But his success is also built on an understanding of his target market. "I worked for many years in the catering, restaurant and hotel trade. In fact I still run a catering business in Northumberland. So I know how this world works." This helps explain why, with only its second green garlic crop, and a range of other specialist crops including Pink Fir Apple Potatoes, Radley Cross is already carving a firm foothold on the UK specialist food map.


"We were excited when we came across Ants green garlic for the first time last year," says Colin Putt, Sales Manager at Total Produce (Cornwall) which distributes the garlic around the South West under its Growfair brand. "Its superb quality and sells well. Its great to have a local supplier. Its a niche product, really, and we sell it mainly to the restaurant trade in Devon and Cornwall, to high-end chefs who know how to use it."


Among the chefs who love Ants garlic is Mark Dodson, chef at the award winning one-star Michelin restaurant at the Masons Arms in Knowstone, North Devon. "We always try to make the most of the green garlic season. Green garlic has a beautiful subtle flavour, quite different from dried garlic. You can just cut the whole bulb in half and roast it with a joint, or combine it with fish or light meats. Its a fabulous product."


Radley Cross green garlic is also available in several Devon farm shops, including Witheridge Farm Shop. "I love it because it is local, but I sell it because it is good!" says owner Ted Bath. "In fact it is superb! When its on the shelf, it is snapped up. For me, it heralds the start of the summer. It has that Mediterranean feel, you can almost taste the sunshine. All you need is some asparagus, new potatoes, early tomatoes and Ants green garlic and youre in heaven!"




Green Garlic chicken with herbed potatoes




serves 4


Ingredients


4 heads green garlic


8 tbsp olive oil


2 tsp Dijon mustard


1 tbsp balsamic vinegar


1 tsp chopped fresh thyme


4-8 rosemary sprigs, lightly crushed


a few pinches of light muscovado sugar


2 unwaxed lemons


8-12 chicken drumsticks and/or thighs, on the bone with skin


1kg salad potatoes such as Charlotte or Nicola


2 tbsp chopped parsley


green vegetables or salad, to serve



Method


For the marinade, whisk the first five ingredients together, season with black pepper and a large pinch or two of sugar. Finely grate the zest of half a lemon and set aside, then squeeze the lemon juice from that half into the marinade.


Put the chicken in a non-metallic dish and spoon the marinade over. Halve the other lemon and add the three halves to the chicken, and marinate until ready to cook. (This can be done up to two hours ahead or overnight if that suits you better.)


Just over an hour before you want to eat, preheat the oven to 200ËšC/gas 6/fan 180ËšC. Cut a thin slice off the top of the garlic (this makes it easier to squeeze it out later) and halve the potatoes or cut them into largish chunks, depending on their size. Drain most of the marinade into a roasting tin and add the potatoes and garlic, tossing to make sure that they are coated in the oil. Roast, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.


Add the chicken, rosemary and lemon to the tin, scraping in any bits of marinade. Toss to mix, arrange the chicken skin-side up and season well with salt, then roast for another 40-45 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked, and the chicken is golden and crisp and the garlic is squashy. Mix the reserved lemon zest and parsley, scatter over the chicken and serve immediately with seasonal green vegetables or salad.


The best way to eat the garlic is to squash it out of its skin with a knife and spread it onto the roasted potatoes and chicken.




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